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Foreclosure:  A Pet’s Worst Nightmare

Pets & Foreclosure:
The Problem

The subprime fiasco and commensurate “credit crunch” have affected us all in one way or another. The number of families struggling to meet their mortgage obligations has continued to rise — first, as balloon payments kicked in and, more recently, as principal payments become due on what were formerly interest-only loans. While foreclosures have declined substantially from their peak in 2010, foreclosure filings in the U.S. are still running at over one million units annually. In some California cities it has not been uncommon to see entire blocks of homes in foreclosure standing silently unoccupied. Alas, not all of these foreclosure homes are silent. Barks, whimpers and other tiny cries for help can all too often be heard emanating from behind stoic walls.

A family in foreclosure may have few available options. Unless an arrangement can be reached with the leinholder, the residents may find themselves forced to vacate. When this happens, relatives or friends may come to the aid of the unfortunate human inhabitants, who may otherwise find it necessary to rent a small apartment. There may be no place in such a circumstance for the formerly cherished family pets. While options do exist for pets in crises such as these, the trauma inflicted upon pet owners by the prospect of losing the home may lead to a decision unfathomable to many of us — ABANDONMENT.

This predicament has received some media attention. However, the mainstream media have been slow to pick up the torch on the issue of animal abandonment. Most news items on the topic have been posted by bloggers, the majority of whom are sympathetic to the plight of pets abandoned by owners.

The law creates confusion as to what can be done for abandoned animals in need. Because in most U.S. states pets are considered property, some leinholders direct property managers to refrain from feeding and watering pets left behind. Fortunately, compassionate realtors regularly ignore this misguided instruction and do provide food and water for the distressed animals. However, these individuals cannot legally remove an animal from an abandoned home.

Fortunately, animal neglect and cruelty laws enable local enforcement officials to rescue and remove animals whose lives or welfare are threatened. These officials, be they police officers, firefighters or animal protection workers, frequently operate hand-in-hand with local animal shelters and local and regional animal rescue groups to rescue, provide medical attention, shelter and rehome abandoned pets. Sadly, when owners vacate without notice, rescuers may be unable to save animals left for days or weeks without food and water and heat or air conditioning.

Foreclosure Tips for Pet Owners

If you are a pet owner who may be facing foreclosure and possible eviction, what can you do to keep your pets safe and in good care? First, plan ahead. Work up a family budget; know what your expenditures are and when the money will run out. Reduce frivilous and unnecessary expenditures and actively seek ways to cut costs. Be sure to involve your entire family in the process.

Next, be preemptive — negotiate! Do not be afraid to talk to your lender about your financial situation, whether or not they have a local office and preferably before the situation gets out of hand. Foreclosure is a huge headache for a leinholder; an unoccupied property represents a serious liability. Even if you cannot pay your entire mortgage each month, you may be able to negotiate a reduced payment and still be entitled to remain in the home. If you are employed and your credit is good, you may be able to refinance.

Should you consider yourself to be under imminent threat of foreclosure, do not panic! Know that foreclosure is not an immediate process — it takes time. Doing everything you can to forestall the process may give you added weeks or months in your home, with the possibility that your situation may improve and foreclosure will no longer be necessary.

Finally, investigate pet rescue resources. Relatives or friends may be willing to care for one or more of your pets. This is by far the most desirable choice because you know where your pet is, can visit your pet, and might even be able to reclaim your pet when things get better. (If you wish to have your pet returned to you, be sure the temporary caregiver knows this up front and be prepared to assist in paying for food, vet bills, etc.) Do not, however, leave your pet in the care of someone who knows nothing about caring for the type of pet you own, does not have the resources to do so, or who does not truly wish to accept the responsibility of caring for that pet, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

Ask your local veterinarian whether he or she knows someone for whom they can vouch who may have recently lost a pet and is looking for another. By virtue of their profession, vets are in constant contact with people who love animals. Some veterinarians actively assist in finding adoptive homes for pets in need.

Surrendering your pet to a pet rescue or pet adoption agency is your next option. Because rescues are generally established to aid abandoned pets, you may find yourself being asked to pay a surrender fee. This is not unusual, and helps to defray costs associated with sheltering your pet and providing veterinary care while it awaits adoption. Providing a written record of your pet’s vaccination history (shot record) from your veterinarian will greatly assist the adoption agency, which will also likely request that you complete a questionnaire about your pet. Make sure the animal rescue to which you surrender your pet is licensed by the state or has other verifiable credentials, and do not be afraid to ask to inspect the facilities in which your pet will be housed. Bear in mind that many rescues utilize volunteer foster families to care for pets awaiting adoption to permanent homes. Rescues do not euthanize animals except in cases of pain and suffering or extreme aggressive behavior disorders.

Your final option is to take your pet to an animal shelter. In this event, you must make absolutely certain that you are delivering your pet to a “no kill” shelter. Without this assurance, it is quite likely that your pet will be euthanized if it is not adopted within a short span of time. Also, potential adopters are not screened nearly as well by animal shelters as they are by animal rescue agencies. Know too that shelters with a “no kill” policy may not be able to accept your pet due to limited facility space.

Above all, remember that foreclosure, like bankruptcy, is a last resort. Don’t your family and your pets deserve better?

Authored by Kenneth L. Anderson.  Original article published 9 April 2008, updated 2 February 2016.

Follow links to the right to learn more about pet abandonment amid the rigors of foreclosure. At the left margin, Related Links address topics of interest pertaining to locating a pet, protecting your pet’s well-being and health, and maximizing your pet’s quality of life. If you desire to become a pet owner, check out Pet Adoption & Rescue. If you already own a pet, you may be especially interested in Pet Care & Pet Health and Pet Products & Supplies. View the Pet Safety SiteMap for a complete list of pet safety topics.

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